Page 76. " it's a well-known feature of Arabs that they're all liars "

   At the start of Chapter IX the narrative voice of Don Quixote undergoes a seismic shift.  Announcing that his own records of Quixote's 'true' adventures have come to an end, Cervantes' anonymous mouthpiece recounts his discovery of a manuscript written by an Arabic historian which, in the form of an admittedly unreliable translation, will comprise the rest of the book.  Cervantes is satirising a common trope of chivalric romances, invoked by the authors of both Amadis de Gaula and Tirant le Blanc - presenting a fantastical story as documented truth has always been a powerful narrative device, still used to great commercial effect in contemporary popular fiction

   By creating this Chinese-box structure of multiple narrators, Cervantes also puts the reader in a dilemma similar to that of Quixote himself, the story's central 'reality' bound up with several conflicting layers of fantasy.  This confusion only becomes more pronounced as the book continues, and has been the subject of much scholarly attention.

Howard Mancing discusses the role of 'Cide Hamete Benengeli' in Cervantes' novel.

Online edition of 'Amadis de Gaula', translated and abridged by Robert Southey (1803)

Online edition of Johanot Martorell and Johan de Galba's 'Tirant lo Blanc', translated by Robert S. Rudder

Page 90. " a student at Salamanca University "

   The oldest university in Spain, mentioned several times throughout Don Quixote.  Founded in 1243 it was a prestigious institution by Cervantes' time, graduates taking positions of great authority throughout the Empire.  Along with other Spanish universities it declined in wealth and prestige following the Golden Age.

'Columbus Before the Council of Salamanca' by William Henry Powell (1847)
Public Domain'Columbus Before the Council of Salamanca' by William Henry Powell (1847)

   The university was bound up with a particularly Cervantine confusion when American writer Washington Irving, in Chapter III of his fictionalised history The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828), cast members of it faculty as dogged representatives of irrational ignorance, disputing Columbus' theory of a spherical earth.  Despite the story's persistence there was no such organised argument from the university against Columbus who, rather than proposing a new shape for the earth, held the truly radical belief that Asia was only a few thousand nautical miles west of Europe.

Creative Commons AttributionSalamanca - Credit: Rob Hilken

   Today the University of Salamanca is more prized for its rich history than academic excellence, still numbering among Spain's top universities.  There is no evidence to support the speculation of some biographers that Cervantes, who grew up in a poor household, was ever a student there.  Salamanca's own website merely insinuates this, with the less bold but still unsupported claim that the author "walked along the University’s corridors".


Google Map